I turned 43 on Tuesday, and it was kind of, well, great. Not in the surprise party way. Not in the "my husband bought me a Lexus!" way, and not in the "I've got no cellulite!" way. None of those things happened upon me.
What did happen was that I was pretty chill. Pretty serene. Happy and feeling like I used to feel. Hard to pinpoint when that was -- "how I used to feel." I have been searching for when that was. I go back to when I was in my 20's and lived in Baltimore. When I first moved to NYC. When I went to Italy and fulfilled a lifelong dream. When I was 11. There was no sudden shift, no clear before and after of feeling good and then feeling bad. It kind of snuck up on me. However, my illness and subsequent "recovery" is a sort of marker. It most certainly has something to do with that, my first "child."
I've always considered my illness and especially my recuperation period to be like a very prolonged, difficult pregnancy. I have never been pregnant, at least not that I know of, not in this particular lifetime. But I remember that when I was "better" (ie, able to leave the apartment and see people), I was weak and tired easily. Needed to sit down a lot. Many foods disagreed with me. I couldn't drink. I was very emotional. And I was self conscious about the way I looked. In this I was the opposite of the pregnant friends I seemed to be surrounded by. They were getting larger, whereas I had gotten much, much smaller. Small to the point that at first, my family and some friends were convinced that I was anorexic. Legs so thin that they didn't appear to be mine at all -- whose bones were those jutting out of the pale, thin skin? Not mine.
A memory that stands out for me is from a party I attended with at least two pregnant friends. They and I all felt a bit nauseous and very tired and ready to call it a night. One friend was describing her symptoms, and I commiserated -- they were not much different from mine. The difference was that she was carrying new life within her, life that admittedly made her feel pretty awful. I wasn't carrying anything special like that. Instead I was host to some overactive white blood cells and some weird granulomae that apparently caused quite a ruckus to my immune system. I sighed. My baby was my illness. I had to tend to it, hate it as I might. Because I did despise this unwelcome visitor who I determined had destroyed my life. Had dissipated my body out of all recognition. The baby who wouldn't let me have another, less destructive baby.
For about 8 years now, I've been waiting to feel like I used to. I wanted to go to sleep and not wake up coughing or with a raging headache or ear infection. Wake up refreshed and not trembling, heart racing. Wanted to laugh -- laugh readily and often, like I used to. Not snap at loved ones because I didn't get enough sleep. I have known for a while that I have been protecting myself in a little cocoon from hurting more. I didn't care, I was sick, wasn't I? Too bad for you, you just have to deal with my illness peculiarities. It is only recently that I have been able to step back and watch myself fend off life. I have been afraid of this baby. She turned my life upside-down. Slowly, not without resistance, I have forced myself to accept her. "She might not ever leave, you know," I told myself. There is also a good chance I might not ever get off of prednisone. Prednisone is the pacifier that keeps her from throwing my body back into the sickness spiral.
I have learned a few tricks. If I do yoga regularly, she doesn't feel as achy and she sleeps better. As woo-woo as it sounds, cranio-sacral therapy works. So do chanting Buddhist monks and nuns. Having two boys, as challenging as it is, is good exercise and makes her sleep well, too.
With this acceptance, the fear has lessened. I'm not throwing raspberries her way or dissing her or anything, of course. I must respect her. The illness, my first child, has allowed me to lessen the prednisone pacifier. She has allowed me to go from the five milligrams I've been on for so long, gradually, painstakingly down to 2.5 milligrams. To those of you who've tapered prednisone, you know of what I speak. It is extremely difficult to taper once you get down to the lower numbers. Some say it is impossible once you've been on them so long, your adrenal glands become addicted to it and can't work on their own. I tapered by 1.25 milligrams in March, and it has taken me until now to not feel completely exhausted. I'm still not sure it'll stick, but I feel pretty good lately. I weigh the same as I did before the illness. Even a couple pounds more.
And for a week or so now, I've been pretty ok. Pretty chill. More mindful. More like I used to feel. And for as long as it lasts, I am grateful. Thank you for this birthday gift, you illness you. My first baby.